CHRIS Brown may be eyeing promotion with Sunderland but the young striker has recalled how last season's success on loan at Doncaster Rovers has made him a better player.

By helping Rovers clinch the old Third Division title last year Brown proved his fitness and worth to Black Cats' boss Mick McCarthy.

After missing the entire 2002/03 season with cruciate knee ligament damage, Brown was loaned to Rovers, where his ten goals in 22 appearances helped the Yorkshireman to promotion.

Now, after breaking into McCarthy's first-team plans this season, the 20-year-old remains grateful that he was given the opportunity by Rovers to get his career back on track.

"I had to prove I could play league football after my knee injury," said Brown. "I went to Doncaster with the intention of playing as many games as possible, which I did, and I think it helped a lot.

"I played 22 games there and the experience of playing in a promotion-winning team couldn't have been any better for me.

"There were some hard games against tough defenders but I learned from it and I feel I'm a better player now."

Brown's progression in the game has not gone unnoticed at the Stadium of Light, under the watchful eye of McCarthy.

In September, the Durham-born forward bagged two goals on his Black Cats debut in a 3-3 draw at Crewe.

And, after Kevin Kyle was ruled out in August with a long-term hip injury, Brown has enjoyed an extended, if unexpected, run in the Black Cats' promotion campaign. The forward has made 37 appearances this season, scoring seven goals.

"I didn't expect to play in so many games," admitted Brown. "The manager has shown a lot of faith in me, ever since my debut at Crewe. It's up to me to keep on going and getting as many starts as I can."

Brown started the season as fourth-choice striker behind Kyle, Marcus Stewart and Stephen Elliott, although recently the striker has been preferred to Elliott, partnering Stewart in attack.

However, Brown has proved more effective coming off the bench this season, scoring four of his seven goals as a substitute.

The youngster failed to score in his third successive start at Ipswich on Sunday.

"When I've started games I haven't done as well as I'd have hoped," said Brown.

"I've done better coming from the bench, which is frustrating for me because I know what I can do and I don't think I've matched it.

"I can't put my finger on it and it's just one of those things you have to learn in the game.

"All I can do is get my head down and work hard in training."

A Sunderland victory against Leicester City at the Stadium of Light this weekend could seal promotion to the Premiership.

However, Brown insists: "We're not taking anything for granted - there is a lot of work still to be done."

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